Evolutionary origins of money categorization and exchange: an experimental investigation in tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.)

Francesca De Petrillo, Martina Caroli, Emanuele Gori, Antonia Micucci, Serena Gastaldi, Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde, Elsa Addessi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Money is a cultural artefact with a central role in human society. Here, we investigated whether some features of money may be traced back to the exchange habits of nonhuman animals, capitalizing on their ability to flexibly use tokens in different domains. In Experiment 1, we evaluated whether capuchins can recognize token validity. Six subjects were required to exchange with the experimenter valid/familiar tokens, valid/unfamiliar tokens, invalid tokens, and no-value items. They first exchanged a similar number of valid/familiar and valid/unfamiliar tokens, followed by exchanges of invalid tokens and no-value items. Thus, as humans, capuchins readily recognized token validity, regardless of familiarity. In Experiment 2, we further evaluated the flexibility of the token–food association by assessing whether capuchins could engage in reverse food–token exchanges. Subjects spontaneously performed chains of exchanges, in which a food item was exchanged for a token, and then the token was exchanged for another food. However, performance was better as the advantage gained from the exchange increased. Overall, capuchins recognized token validity and successfully engaged in chains of reverse and direct exchanges. This suggests that—although nonhuman animals are far from having fully-fledged monetary systems—for capuchins tokens share at least some features with human money.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-186
Number of pages18
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 8 Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Categorization
  • Exchange
  • Money
  • Primate
  • Token
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Evolutionary origins of money categorization and exchange: an experimental investigation in tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this